Star Trek character Spock originated from the fictional planet Vulcan, which was said to (probably) exist in real life orbiting around the star 40 Eridani A. That prediction was made in 1991 by series creator Gene Roddenberry and a trio of astronomers, and now decades later it has been proven mostly true: a planet at that location has been discovered.
The saga started back in 1991, when Roddenberry and astronomers with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics wrote a letter to Sky & Telescope arguing that 40 Eridani A would likely be the planet Vulcan’s star. The actual location of Vulcan was never disclosed in the TV show or movie, but imaging where it would reside was a fun expansion of the fictional universe.
The letter had argued that 40 Eridani A was a likely candidate for serving as Vulcan’s star due to its estimated age of 4 billion years. The idea was that any planet orbiting this star would have had enough time for intelligent life to evolve. Now, nearly 30 years later, that prediction has proven oddly accurate: a super-Earth type of planet was been discovered orbiting the 40 Eridani star.
The discovery was made by the Dharma Planet Survey, which involves a 50-inch telescope that looks for blips in star light that could indicate the presence of planets. The planet found orbiting 40 Eridani A is estimated to have between 8 and 9 times the mass of Earth, as well as double its radius.
The planet’s orbit is 42 days long and it resides a bit inside of the 40 Eridani system’s habitable zone, making it quite hot. Researchers don’t know much about the planet at this time, but it is the closest super-Earth found so far, so it’s possible we’ll see future missions dedicated to studying it.
SOURCE: Sky and Telescope